Ajay Banga officially became the 14th president of the World Bank on Friday and urged staff to join him in developing a “new playbook” for a global institution whose relevance has come into question in recent years.
The ascension of Mr. Banga to be the next leader of the bank comes at a pivotal moment in its 77-year history. The global pandemic reversed decades of progress in poverty reduction, Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to be a threat to economic stability and the World Bank is under new pressure to become a more ambitious player in the fight against climate change.
“Making good on our ambition will require us to evolve to maximize resources and write a new playbook, to think creatively, take informed risks and forge new partnerships with civil society and multilateral institutions,” Mr. Banga wrote in a note to staff that was viewed by The New York Times.
Mr. Banga was nominated by President Biden in February after the resignation of David Malpass, the outgoing World Bank president who had been selected by former President Donald J. Trump. The World Bank’s executive board approved Mr. Banga in May following an extensive listening tour that included visits to eight countries and dozens of meetings with government officials around the world.
In his message to staff, Mr. Banga defined the bank’s mission as aspiring to “create a world free from poverty on a livable planet.”
It is the second part of that mission by which Mr. Banga will be likely be judged.
Mr. Malpass left the job a year early after failing to sufficiently demonstrate his commitment to combating global warming amid a renewed emphasis from the Biden administration broadening the bank’s focus on the environment.
However, Mr. Banga, a former chief executive of Mastercard, does not bring extensive climate credentials to the job and will be under pressure to demonstrate progress on the bank’s environmental agenda. He has described the tasks of dealing with climate change and poverty as intertwined.
“The World Bank’s challenge is clear: It must pursue both climate adaptation and mitigation; it must reach out to lower-income countries without turning its back on middle-income countries; it must think globally but recognize national and regional needs; it must embrace risk but do so prudently,” Mr. Banga wrote in a statement to World Bank’s executive board that accompanied his memo to staff.
Climate activists plan to appear outside the World Bank on Friday and attempt to hand postcards to staff with demands that they want Mr. Banga to heed during his first 100 days on the job. They continue to be frustrated that the World Bank finances coal, oil and gas projects despite its pledges to prioritize clean energy projects.
Mr. Banga is expected to use his expertise to amplify the resources of the World Bank and build new partnerships between the private and public sectors. The former finance executive added in his memo that accomplishing the World Bank’s many goals will require an annual global investment of trillions of dollars.
Mr. Banga will also face a difficult diplomatic task as he seeks to satisfy the climate ambitions of the United States and Europe while facing skepticism from some developing countries. He will also confront the delicate task of urging China, a major World Bank shareholder and creditor, to allow poor countries that have borrowed huge sums from Beijing to restructure their debts.
The World Bank president is traditionally chosen by the United States; the managing director of the International Monetary Fund is selected by the European Union.
Mr. Banga met on Thursday with Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen. They discussed ways to refine how the bank operates and make it more agile and responsive, according to a summary of their conversation released by the Treasury Department.
Alan Rappeport is an economic policy reporter, based in Washington. He covers the Treasury Department and writes about taxes, trade and fiscal matters. He previously worked for The Financial Times and The Economist. @arappeport
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